It will take “two to three years” before home care is regulated to protect vulnerable older people, an official from the Department of Health said yesterday.
The assistant secretary of the department’s social care division, Frances Spillane, said they were at an early stage in developing policy proposals to extend the Fair Deal scheme to home care.
Ms Spillane told a meeting of the joint Oireachtas committee on health that an older people’s project unit had been established in the department and, hopefully, it would help them to move “a bit more quickly”.
The principal officer of the older people’s project unit, Robert Deegan, assured the committee that the matter was being prioritised.
Ms Spillane said the department believed that a standalone funding scheme, designed specifically for home care, together with an effective system of regulation, was needed.
“The new scheme will improve access to home care in an affordable and sustainable way,” she said.
“A system of regulation will be designed to ensure public confidence in the standard of the services provided and to bring Ireland into line with best international practice.”
Ms Spillane said it would be important to get the balance right and to ensure that the system of regulation was effective and not overly bureaucratic.
Mr Deegan said the HSE took a significant step towards quality assurance in 2012 when it introduced a single procurement framework for external providers of home care services.
“This framework includes quality standards, in terms of governance and accountability, person-centred care, complaints management and training and qualifications.
“Providers are monitored by the HSE through service level agreements and are required to share a range of information in relation to their services.”
Mr Deegan said they intended to build on “this good work” and place the regulatory system on a statutory footing as quickly as they could.
They intended to bring forward proposals on regulation and the statutory scheme at the same time so they would “mesh well” together.
Senior researcher at the Health Research Board, Jean Long, who looked at the regulation and financing of home care services in four European countries, said Ireland was “lagging behind.”
However, the country had a younger population so the need has arisen as early as it would have in the other countries she looked at.
Ms Long said it was crucial that we did not “jump in” with a solution that was not based on other people’s learning.
The head of advocacy and communications at Age Action, Justin Moran, said they would prefer that home care services were regulated sooner rather than later but wanted it to be done right more than anything else.
“If it takes two to three year to develop a statutory scheme for home care that is effective, that deals with the issues highlighted by other members of the committee, I think that is something that can be lived with so long as it does not get pushed on further past that,” said Mr Moran.
He said the current policy of prioritising the provision of home care packages to facilitate discharge from acute hospitals meant that older people in hospital could access them more easily than those in the community.
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